Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Chargers

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1. Have your weakness beat LA’s weakness. 

The Chargers’ defense is allowing 4.2 yards per rush, 19th in the NFL, and opponents are averaging 117.1 rushing yards per game against Gus Bradley’s group. Los Angeles is 24th in rush defense DVOA, too, backing up those traditional numbers. 

The point: If there’s ever a game for Matt Nagy to commit to running the ball, it’ll happen on Sunday. The Bears do not necessarily need David Montgomery to have his first 100-yard game in the NFL, but if Nagy can be patient with the results in the first half it should pay dividends in the final two quarters. (Latavius Murray, for example, had 30 rushing yards in the first half last week, then finished with 119 as the Saints physically wore down the Bears’ defense in the second half). 

A good day for Montgomery would be 20 carries for at least 80 yards — including runs on consecutive plays — though the Bears could still win even if his yardage total was down in the 60’s or 70’s. Just the mere commitment to it would help this entire offense better find a rhythm that’s been lacking far too often in 2019. 

2. Execute on third and short. 

If the Bears’ measly seven rushing attempts last week were an indictment of Nagy, this stat is an indictment of his players’ execution: 

Inside that stat: The Bears had four third down tries with fewer than four yards to gain and converted none of them against the Saints (in total, the Bears lost 13 yards on those four plays). And on the season, the Bears are averaging 2.9 yards per play on third and four or fewer, the worst average in the NFL. 

These need to be the sort of “layups” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said the Bears need to make. Merely converting them — even if a drive doesn’t lead to points — will help keep the Bears’ defense off the field and fresher for longer. This is, too, an exceedingly low bar for the Bears to clear. But since they didn’t clear it last week, it now becomes something they absolutely have to do on Sunday to emerge with a win.  

3. Help out the offense on defense.

While the Bears’ defense buckled under the massive weight placed upon it by the offense last week, it’s a group that prides itself on being better no matter the circumstances. Those circumstances, even without the offense’s help, should be more favorable to this defense on Sunday. 

The Chargers are 22nd in the NFL with 12 giveaways (six interceptions, six lost fumbles), so a Bears team hungry to create turnovers should have some opportunities on Sunday. And while Philip Rivers has only been sacked on 11 percent of his drop backs (seventh-lowest in the league), only two quarterbacks have been under pressure more frequently than the 37-year-old veteran. 

Russell Okung’s return to the left side of the Chargers’ offensive line should provide a boost on Sunday (and make Leonard Floyd’s job more difficult), but Los Angeles’ pass protection is nonetheless beatable. The formula seems simple: Pressure Rivers without sending blitzes and get him off-schedule with his receivers, allowing ballhawking safeties Eddie Jackson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to use their range to pick off some of those floating, fluttering passes he throws. All six of Rivers’ interceptions this year have been thrown when opponents have not blitzed, per PFF. 

Prediction: Bears 17, Chargers 16. 

The Chargers are 2-5 and, while Okung and running back Melvin Gordon are back, are already without All-Pro safety Derwin James and might not have stud wideout Keenan Allen on Sunday. Then again, the Bears weren’t able to beat a depleted New Orleans Saints team last week — but that’s one of the NFL’s very best teams. The Chargers are not. 
The Bears will win to move to 4-3, but it won’t be pretty. Still, a win is a win, and for a team looking for a spark, even a one-point win over a struggling opponent will count for something. 

How about an Eddy Pineiro walk-off to get that spark?

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